First part of Sermon XXXIX. for the Third Sunday after Easter.
What is this that He saith, A little while? we cannot tell what
He saith. --St. John xvi. 18.
A Little While.
by Isaac Williams
from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and
Holy Days throughout the Year, Vol. I. Advent to Tuesday in Whitsun
Rivingtons, London, 1875, pp. 453-456.
What a wonderful power there is in these words, "A little while"!
In the season of affliction, or the hour of worldly temptation, or amidst
quarrels and disputes, how soothing and calming is this mysterious expression
of our Lord's, "A little while"! But a little while and all will
be over; a little while, and this trouble, this joy, this passion--all this
scene will have gone by.
And the Epistle for today begins with the same lesson, although differently
expressed, of our transient and fleeting condition. Dearly beloved,
says St. Peter, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims. It
is like our Lord's own saying, "A little while;" for in the sight of God
we are as strangers and pilgrims. "We are strangers," says David,
"before Thee and sojourners." [1 Chron. xxix. 15] It is before
God, in His presence, as He sees things; it is our Lord's "little while,"
which men, like His disciples of old, understand not. But oh that
we may come to have the mind of God on this subject, to know, as He does,
that our days on earth are but a shadow that abideth not!
As strangers and pilgrims I beseech you, abstain from fleshly lusts,
which war against the soul; as "strangers" who are travelling through
a foreign and dangerous country, replete with watchful enemies ever lying
in wait against your immortal and better part; and those enemies "warring
in your members," in your very soul itself, for they are the desires of
the natural mind. And thus, as altogether of another spirit, abstain
from worldly lusts; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles;
i.e. as strangers of this world, among the nations with whom ye sojourn,
having your course of life so fair and good; that, whereas they speak
against you as evildoers; although Satan will always raise slanders
and an evil report against good men; yet, they may, by your good
works which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Notwithstanding all they say at the time, your good lives will be observed
by them; and if God should visit them hereafter, as He is often in His
mercy wont to do, by awakening the consciences of men is some hour of trial,
then nothing will have greater power to turn them to God than the instances
of Divine grace which they have seen in you. Thus may ye "shine like
lights in the world," even while ye are passing so rapidly through it,
though ye be as strangers and pilgrims who have here no home.
And next, with regard to the civil government under which ye are placed.
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake; as
strangers upon earth and citizens of a better country, for the Lord's sake
be faithful subjects to those state-appointments under which ye dwell.
Whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them
that are sent by him, for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise
of them that do well; not only to the king in person as set in
the chief place, but to his ministers also and officers, to whom is committed
the sword of God, and the protection and encouragement of the good.
For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence
the ignorance of foolish men. Ye have a cause to maintain, a
victory to seek, but this is by silent, patient endurance. As our
Lord was given up to Pontius Pilate as one who raised seditions against
Caesar, so the early Christians were often accused of being ill-affected
towards the state by those who knew them not; and the will of God in Christ
was, that the answer they should give to these charges was by their blameless
They had indeed as Christians a higher law of their own; they belonged
to another kingdom, had another King whose service was perfect freedom,
and they knew that in God's sight, and in respect of His eternal kingdom,
all men were equal; but what! were they to confuse this with a poor earthly
liberty and equality? God forbid. As free, adds St.
Peter, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness; as
a pretext for wickedness, but as the servants of God; always
being under His fear, as doing Him service, and therefore as rendering
unto all their dues.
Honour all men; i.e. whatever their state in life may be,
high or low, rich or poor in outward or inward endowments, Heathen or Christian,
yet honour all as creatures of God. As St. Paul says, "In honour
preferring one another." [Rom. xii. 10.] And "in lowliness
of mind let each esteem other better than themselves." [Phil. ii. 3.]
Honour all, love the brotherhood. This only distinction will
you know among all fellow citizens in this world; honouring all, but having
a peculiar and Divine love to the brethren in Christ.
And then again, with regard to your heavenly and your earthly Governor,
observe this rule and all will be right. Fear God: honour the
king. The first of these precepts will keep the other in place;
for it be said, Am I to honour the king in all things, even so as to obey
him in doing what is wrong? No; this the fear of God will not permit.
For it is first said, "Fear God;" it is not said, Fear the king.
No; fear no man, but fear God only; honour the king in the fear of God.
But now to all these duties we must carry on the first expression of
the Epistle for to-day; be "as strangers and pilgrims" upon earth, looking
for and hasting unto the coming of the Kingdom of God. "As strangers
and pilgrims," says the Apostle; "it is as such that I beseech you, my
dearly beloved." This will form a connexion with the Gospel for the
day, which speaks under circumstances the most affecting, and language
of the deepest interest and beauty, of the short period of this mortal
(for the second part on the Gospel.)